Law: Notes on Corbin Carroll, Hunter Brown and other significant September call-ups

September call-ups ain’t what they used to be. Back in my day, you could call up everyone in your system, even from the class Q league, where players would wear onions on their belts because that was the style at the time. Now MLB clubs are limited to a 28-man roster in September, which is just two more spots than they have during the first five months of the season. This smaller roster does avoid some of the circus of teams playing with 35 active guys but also limits rebuilding clubs that might want to give more prospects a taste of the majors. We’ve had a few significant call-ups this week, including the top two prospects in the game, so here’s a quick check-in on what to look for from each guy and what their call-ups might mean long term.

Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

What to look for: Carroll was the No. 1 prospect in baseball in my midseason update and has done nothing but produce everywhere he’s played in pro ball, hitting a combined .307/.425/.610 between Double A and Triple A this year, with 31 steals in 36 attempts. The 16th pick in 2019 also gets huge raves for his makeup and feel for the game.

Why it matters: Arizona is in the midst of a big rebuild, with a very strong farm system but weak major-league roster, particularly its lineup. Carroll is the guy you build around, the team’s long-term center fielder and potential franchise player, and getting him a month in the majors now sets him up better to break camp with the team in April while also helping the team space out some of its prospect promotions. He’ll still qualify in the offseason rankings, so the D-Backs will go into next year with three of the top 15 prospects, with Jordan Lawlar and Druw Jones joining Carroll.

Gunnar Henderson, SS/3B, Baltimore Orioles

What to look for: Henderson’s last two years have involved continuous improvement, as he’s improved across the board as a hitter even with aggressive promotions up the Orioles’ system. He’s a solid defender at shortstop and an elite one at third base, which gives Baltimore options, although I’m an advocate of putting him at third, where he might be the best defender in the AL next year.

Why it matters: The Orioles are in the playoff hunt right now, but they’re going to be real contenders next year, with Adley Rutschman established, Henderson likely on the Opening Day roster, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez at least available for the rotation, and other prospects (Joey Ortiz, Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser) close to ready, as well. Ortiz is a very strong defender at short, so if the Orioles believe he’s a future regular there, they could move Henderson to third and have one of the best defensive infields in the game.

DL Hall, LHP, Baltimore Orioles

What to look for: Hall can show three above-average or better pitches, but despite a high level of athleticism, he has always had issues throwing strikes, with a 14 percent walk rate in Triple A this year and just 63 percent of his pitches going for strikes.

Why it matters: The Orioles’ surprise contention has been a function of better than expected pitching, more than any other single factor, as they have gone from the worst run-prevention team in the AL by a full run per nine innings (5.84 team ERA last year) to a league-average one (3.79 this year). Several of their starters have outpitched their underlying data, meaning that they’re likely to see some regression going forward, including Dean Kremer, Spenser Watkins and Austin Voth. Maybe one of these guys ends up in Orioles’ rotation over the long haul, but Hall and Rodriguez, who just made his first rehab start Thursday, both should be part of it.

Hunter Brown, RHP, Houston Astros

What to look for: stuff. Brown throws hard, up to 99 mph, with a potential four-pitch mix from a strong 6-foot-2 frame that looks built for starting.

Why it matters: Brown could certainly help the Astros in a relief role right now but may be auditioning for a rotation spot for next year, as well, as Justin Verlander has a player option and oft-injured Lance McCullers Jr. has made just three starts this year. But Brown has also walked a ton of guys in the minors, 11.5 percent this year, and that’s probably going to go up in the majors as hitters don’t chase as often as guys in the minors did.

Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Detroit Tigers

What to look for: Torkelson’s first go-round in the majors wasn’t a success, as he missed more in-zone than expected and didn’t make consistently hard contact, essential for a corner guy whose value will be entirely in his bat. Can he make more contact on pitches in the zone and ensure that more of his contact is high quality?

Why it matters: The Tigers’ rebuild has flopped, at least for now, with all three of their top pitching prospects from 2020 now on the shelf, and none of their top hitting prospects breaking through yet — Riley Greene is leading the team in wRC+ at 103, and he hasn’t been anywhere near expectations yet. Detroit needs a lot of the things that went wrong this year to go right next year, and Torkelson, the first pick in 2020, starting to produce would be near the top of that list.

Miguel Vargas, 3B/1B, Los Angeles Dodgers

What to look for: Vargas can hit by any definition, with a .304/.404/.511 line in Triple A this year at age 22, including 32 doubles, four triples and 17 homers in 113 games. The only real question is where he can play defensively; he can handle first base but has played third, second and even a bit of left this year.

Why it matters: The Dodgers have first base covered for quite some time with Freddie Freeman, but they’ll have one infield spot open next year with Trea Turner potentially leaving as a free agent and Max Muncy and Justin Turner (who’ll be 38) having down years . If Gavin Lux can handle shortstop, that means second or third would be open for Vargas, who could also end up playing left if the Dodgers decide to bench Chris Taylor, who has been a replacement-level player in 2022 but has three years remaining on his contract.

Garrett Mitchell and Esteury Ruiz, CFs, Milwaukee Brewers

What to look for: For Mitchell, it’s really about impact with the bat — he’s an 80 runner and a plus defender in center, with good feel to hit but a swing that doesn’t generate much power. For Ruiz, it’s a little more broad — he can hit but doesn’t have Mitchell’s approach, or at least didn’t until this year, and while Ruiz can definitely play center (and really run, with 70 steals this year already, more than any MLB player has had in one season since 2009), he’s not as good as Mitchell and could end up pushed to a corner.

Why it matters: The Brewers need a center field answer now, for the rest of this year and for 2023, as they should be contenders again next year. One of these guys should be the everyday center fielder next year, which would help the Brewers try to address some of the other weaknesses in the lineup.

Ken Waldichuk, LHP, Oakland A’s

What to look for: Waldichuk got on everyone’s radar with a 30 2/3-inning scoreless streak to start the 2021 minor-league season and has continued to miss bats all the way up through Triple A, working with an above-average fastball that plays up because of its spin and movement, and an above average slider. He’s had large platoon splits, lacking a good third pitch for right-handed batters, and his command is below average, both of which point to a potential reliever future.

Why it matters: Waldichuk was the headliner in the four-player return for Frankie Montas at the trade deadline, so there’s a little more pressure for him to work out than there might be if he had come up through the Oakland system. The A’s certainly have opportunities in their rotation for 2023 if Waldichuk looks good this month, and while I think he’s more likely to end up a reliever, that big Oakland ballpark has helped a lot of fringy starter prospects develop in the past.

Oswaldo Peraza, SS, New York Yankees

What to look for: Peraza is a plus defender, maybe the best pure defensive shortstop the Yankees have, although Anthony Volpe isn’t that far behind him; and Peraza can hit a mistake out of the park. He’s power-over-hit for now, though, with below-average flat discipline — he doesn’t strike out excessively, but doesn’t work the count or lay off pitches he can’t hit well.

Why it matters: It might not, at least not for the Yankees. Peraza is better than Isiah Kiner-Falefa, at least in the long term, but whether he’ll be better in a one-month look is anyone’s guess, and beyond 2022 the position should be Volpe’s rather than Peraza’s. They could move one of those two guys to third base after Josh Donaldson leaves, but I could also see the Yankees trading Peraza to a team that needs a true shortstop for a more established player who fills a different need for New York.

(Photo of Corbin Carroll: Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today)


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